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Pop Music

After many years of pop hits, Crow hears 'Memphis' calling

Sheryl Crow will play up her soulful side when she comes to town Sept. 23, performing songs from her latest album, “100 Miles From Memphis,’’ along with her classic-rock hits. Sheryl Crow will play up her soulful side when she comes to town Sept. 23, performing songs from her latest album, “100 Miles From Memphis,’’ along with her classic-rock hits. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / September 12, 2010

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Sheryl Crow’s new album, “100 Miles From Memphis,’’ gets its title from the proximity of her hometown, Kennett, Mo., to that famed music mecca.

After many successful, Grammy-winning years spent churning out pop-rock hits like “All I Wanna Do,’’ “Soak Up the Sun,’’ and “If It Makes You Happy,’’ Crow decided to turn her attention back to the sweet soul music she loved growing up.

You can hear the affection that the 48-year-old mother of two feels for the sounds of Stax Records and Al Green in the album’s simmering organ fills, chicken-scratch guitar licks, and sultry vocals. While R&B has always been a tool in Crow’s classic rock kit, “Memphis’’ may be her sexiest record to date.

“Oh, that’s good!’’ she says with a laugh on the phone from an Atlanta tour stop. “That’s an area I’ve not really ever delved into and felt like it was imperative that I walk down this path because it is such an integral part of soul music. Also, I’ve typically been a commentator on different subjects that mean a lot to me, but have never written from the standpoint of yearning and desire and emotion, and so it was not only a great exercise for me but sort of a necessity as far as my art was concerned.

“After having made a very socio-political record with [2008’s] ‘Detours,’ I felt like this record needed to be less about being strong and more about being vulnerable,’’ says Crow. “Even as I navigate through life at this moment, raising two kids in the chaos that’s around, I think it’s important for all of us to experience being vulnerable as opposed to always having everything in control. And that was a big challenge on the record to try to give voice to that.’’

Helping her find that voice were coproducers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley, longtime Eric Clapton collaborators and in-demand session musicians and songwriters.

“I’ve known him for years and I have always told him from the moment I heard him sing that he has one of my favorite voices of all time,’’ says Crow of Bramhall, who has joined the new band the Thieves that Crow brings to the Citi Wang Theatre on Sept. 23. “This worked out great because he and Justin were just finishing working on Eric Clapton’s record and I went in and heard some of it and said, ‘Gosh, I’d love it if you guys would produce me,’ and they were completely up for it. The two of them — stylistically, sonically, and even historically — know this genre of music inside and out, so for me it was a great relief to know that what we’re doing is authentic.’’

The results include a reggae-inflected jam called “Eye to Eye’’ with Keith Richards supplying guitar riffs, a duet with Citizen Cope on his “Sideways,’’ and a retro-soul retrofit of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name’’ featuring Justin Timberlake, who happened to be working with Jamie Foxx in a studio down the hall. “He walked in [and heard the track] and was like, ‘Wow, you know I’m from Memphis, right?’ He totally got it as soon as he heard it and up and volunteered.’’ Crow knows she’s lucky to have such a bountiful Rolodex, one that straddles several genres and generations. “I feel completely blessed that on this record I have three of my favorite artists of all time. It’s such a compliment and such an honor for me.’’

Inspired by “Memphis,’’ Crow is reworking some of her back catalog to give it more of an R&B flavor for her live show. “I was worried that fans that were there to hear the old songs would be scratching their heads, but so far everyone’s really loved it and it’s great because it breathes new energy and life into songs that everybody knows.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com

SHERYL CROW

With Brandi Carlile

At: Citi Wang Theatre, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. Tickets: $41-$70.50. 800-432-7250, www.telecharge.com

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